Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fox Not-News And the Reputation Of Bad Journalism

Everything I said about the failures of journalism during the Brian Williams exaggeration-and-lies fiasco remains true.  Especially as a follow-up revelation: that Bill O'Reilly, prime promoter of the Fox Not-News media charade, is himself caught in a web of falsehoods regarding his coverage of the Falklands War.  It's built up into a series of additional revelations that O'Reilly has fibbed and exaggerated his way through various news stories and major moments over the decades he's been paid as a journalist.

To wit:

  • O'Reilly claimed to have witnessed deadly rioting - "bodies in the streets" - in Argentina during the Falklands War. While there were riots, none were lethal nor as bad as he claimed.  Adding to this fib has been O'Reilly's contention that being in Buenos Aries qualified him for being in "a war zone" even though the real war zone - the islands themselves - were hundreds of miles away.  There weren't any American reporters in that actual war zone during the firefights.
  • O'Reilly claimed to have been at the house when a prominent figure in the JFK assassination conspiracy theories committed suicide in 1979.  The police reports from that incident never mentioned his being there (which would have been investigated, he would have been interviewed as a potential witness), and there's eyewitnesses and documentation O'Reilly was in Dallas that day (oh irony).
  • A recent report that O'Reilly claimed to witness "nuns getting shot" in El Salvador during the violent civil war there in the early 1980s.  While nuns were killed, the only documented cases were in 1980, and O'Reilly didn't get there until 1981.

Making O'Reilly's struggles against the accusations more poetic is the reality that his channel has a poor reputation with truth-telling when it comes to reporting.  The channel repeatedly passes along unverified stories as factual, edits clips to distort statements by experts or political figures the channel openly despises, and places on-air people who are not experts on topics to discuss opinions instead of facts.

O'Reilly's not even the worst culprit: the bigger fact-denier has been Sean Hannity, who goes after ill-informed opinions that sync with his own rather than getting actual research and expert opinions.

Fox viewers tend to be the least-informed viewers among the three major cable news channels.  A lot of that is due to Fox News providing reports that tend to be false.  A lot of that is due to Fox News not really being news at all.

There's a push to get Fox Not-News to suspend O'Reilly for his exaggerations/outright lying about his professional career, but considering that cable channel thrives on exaggerations and lies, why expect them to punish him for it?  He's probably going to get a pay raise for this.

Addendum: there's a Washington Post article by Paul Waldman that simplifies the O'Reilly scandal in five easy-to-understand points.  Not only why O'Reilly lies...
So why not just say, “I may have mischaracterized things a few times” and move on? To understand why that’s impossible, you have to understand O’Reilly’s persona and the function he serves for his viewers. The central theme of The O’Reilly Factor is that (his) true America, represented by the elderly whites who make up his audience (the median age of his viewers is 72) is in an unending war with the forces of liberalism, secularism, and any number of other isms. Bill O’Reilly is a four-star general in that war, and the only way to win is to fight.
The allegedly liberal media are one of the key enemies in that war. You don’t negotiate with your enemies, you fight them. And so when O’Reilly is being criticized by the media, to admit that they might have a point would be to betray everything he stands for and that he has told his viewers night after night for the better part of two decades...
...but also why O'Reilly will never admit or acknowledge his lies...
Brian Williams got suspended from NBC News because his bosses feared that his tall tales had cost him credibility with his audience, which could lead that audience to go elsewhere for their news. O’Reilly and his boss, Fox News chief Roger Ailes, are not worried about damage to Bill O’Reilly’s credibility, or about his viewers deserting him. Their loyalty to him isn’t based on a spotless record of factual accuracy; it’s based on the fact that O’Reilly is a medium for their anger and resentments...
Welcome to the Fox Not-News War on Truth. They distort, you abide.

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